Friday, April 27, 2012

Thoughts about Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I finished season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer last night and I'm still trying to process all of my thoughts. With X-Men and Doctor Who I dealt with my intense feelings by writing fanfic and rping and generally geeking out with friends. But Buffy, somehow, got in somewhere deeper into my heart and head and I can't just talk flippantly about it. I don't want, for an instance, to be accused of fangirling over the show or any characters because its so much more than that for me, and I'm still not sure why.

Buffy is, of course, one of the Essential Geek Shows. For years I didn't watch it because I was freaked out by the magic and the demons and all that stuff and despite the horror of geek friends, I continued to hold off on it for a long time. Then I got into Harry Potter and X-Men and just plain grew old enough to deal with the frightening elements and...well...

My friend Randi Jo gets a lot of credit for getting me into Buffy. Many of my other friends praised the show, but Randi Jo was the one who constantly quoted it, who sat me down and convinced me to watch two episodes of season 4, and bought me the first two seasons of Angel. She also encouraged me, when I tried to start out with season 1 of Buffy (and found it less than interesting at my particular point in life) to not give up and skip ahead to season 4. Furthermore she knew what character I was going to love the most and bribed me by saying he got major screen time in the later seasons. Oh how right she was!

(SPOILER WARNING - from here on out there will be spoilers from Buffy, seasons 1-8).

But let's back up. My very first interaction with Buffy was actually not the TV show at all. When I first seriously got into comics, I got into the habit of carefully scouring the library shelves for any that I had not yet read. A volume of Buffy Season 8 was there and (thanks to RJ's constant mentions) decided to pick it up and read it. It was the story arc in which Xander goes to get Dracula to help them out, and was so darn funny that although I wasn't ready to watch the show yet, I'd had my eyes opened to why I needed to give it a chance... someday.

Last fall I finally started watching it seriously, and this spring I finished it. While season 4 had ups and downs, I was hooked from the moment season 5 started. Tara, Dawn and Spike became majorly important characters both to the show and me, and their effect on Buffy and Willow really connected with me.

I know many fans found Dawn irritating, but I have a little sister, and I found Dawn and Buffy's relationship to be incredibly realistic. It forced Buffy to really grow up and become, not just a slayer, but a woman. For the first time I found myself admiring her. And Dawn is brilliant because after season 5 she really is an ordinary, non-powered, non-chosen girl, yet she deals with it and works through being 'not special' and is still determined to help in any way she can.

I've lived all my life on the conservative side of the religious spectrum, a place where you really don't talk about LBGT relationships, at least not at the dinner table with your parents. Part of growing up has been learning how to engage with LBGT portrayals in the media, for which I owe much thanks to my friends in the queer community who have been very patient with my struggles with how I stand on these issues. Willow and Tara at first unnerved me because I wasn't ready to watch a lesbian relationship on-screen. But by the time I got to Once More With Feeling (arguably my favorite or second favorite episode ever), I was fully able to appreciate Tara's love ballad. Tara's selfless love for Willow, her attempts to curtail Willow's magic, and her growing struggle with her own self-esteem make for a very powerful storyline. I also really appreciate her motherly relationship with Dawn. Her death is perhaps one of the saddest moments of the show (the later half, at least, I know Angel fans might say otherwise about seasons 1-3) and is truly heartwrenching.

And then there was Buffy's relationship with Spike and I know some people hate Spike but he's honestly my favorite character on the show, and not because (or just because) he's attractive. When he was evil, I loved his sense of humor long before he became anything like a romantic hero - in fact I first saw him in Angel and spent most of the episode laughing at his shenanigans. I have so much admiration for Whedon and his production team for taking a truly evil character (and Spike WAS evil), and writing out a painfully realistic redemption plotline. I believe fundamentally that everyone has a chance at redemption (it's an integral belief of the Christian faith), but I also believe that redeeming oneself is a really hard task. It's not really something that a film has the time to do justice, especially with a character who started as low as Spike did. I mean, how do you take a character that attempted rape and turn them into a hero without seeming to glorify it? You do it realistically, because people can commit terrible sins like murder and rape and still repent and go on to be truly good people (look, for example, at the slaver John Newton who became one of the foremost Christian writers of his time).

There's so much I could write about Spike and his relationship and effect on Buffy and maybe sometime I will, but I don't want it to take over this post. I'm going to conclude this section by saying that the single most powerful image of the show for me was from the end of season 7, when Spike holds Buffy in his arms all night at her request and they both agreed it was the best night of their life. So much about television today is creating relationships based on sexual attraction. While that was the basis of their relationship in season 6, season 7 was all about forming a deeper, more selfless relationship based on what love truly is - caring more for the other person than for oneself, even if it means to stop fighting for them.

While we're talking about relationships, I want to also bring up Xander and Anya, because I utterly adore these two people. I want Xander to be my big brother, or my best friend, because he's so wonderful and remains fully a person despite the natural inclination to declare him a sidekick. His geek moments are priceless, his quoting of Shakespeare fantastic, but his shining moment is when he saves the world with his words - absolutely perfect.

But he's not flawless, as we really see in his relationship with Anya. When he left her at the alter it really hurt, because I do think they could have made it work, but I also understand why it wasn't right for him. But I hurt for Anya because I love her. I love her bluntness. And it's funny because quite late in the show we find out that her abnormal reactions and lack of boundaries is not because she was once a vengeance demon - it's how she always does. Which means she most likely has Aspergers. Normally it ticks me off when writers use any sort of psychological condition for humor, but I love Anya. I love how she's bold, how she's unashamed of her difficulties, how she loves Xander, how black and white she sees the earth. And I love how she goes "I don't understand, why don't we just say things plainly?" Whedon is a master at giving characters quirks and even psychological disorders without in any way reducing them to mere comedic effect or objects of pity. Anya is a person, and she doesn't want or need to change herself.

And how do you even begin to write about this show in one post? I want to talk about how they wrote Joyce's death (which was so poignant and true), or the phenomenal episode where they staged an actual musical even though almost none of them including Joss had worked with musicals before, or we could talk about Faith, or Giles, or Robin Wood, or Buffy's coming back to life, or the whole thing with the initiative, or the creepiness of the First or Gloria, or the effect of magic on Willow, or Buffy training the potentials (and an ADORABLE Felicia Day), or how terrifying Nathan Fillion is as a villain, or the fact that Buffy makes mistakes and then she learns and grows from them and that's why we love her because she tries so hard to do the right thing.

And can you see why this post has been so hard for me to write? I normally don't delve so deeply into my feelings when writing blog posts. I mean, it's a scary thing because now I'm going to post this and it's going to be read by lots of you who I don't even know.

But it's worth it, because it's worth celebrating the deep things that make us think and feel - whether life or stories and after all that's what this blog is all about. The effect of story on our lives.

I'm so glad I watched Buffy. I'm also so glad that I waited until I was mature enough to truly appreciate every depth and nuance of it. And I'm glad that it didn't disappoint me and that I now understand why it's an Essential Geek Show.

(EDIT: every time I read this post I'm finding something new to edit, so be patient if a sentence is off - I'll be fixing it)


Mira said...

I could go on and on about Buffy (and I have), but I agree with what you've said here. We definitely need to have some Buffy time over coffeecake or something. What I can say is that you're right: Buffy touches a lot of deep, scary places--emotional places that it's hard to even express. The show has geek cred--but it's not your average fandom. There's something sacred about the show for me. Without it I don't know who I'd be, but I don't think I'd like that person very much.

KatySue Pillsbury said...

I might have to start watching Buffy....I've always wanted too, but never found anyone who had watched it to ask their opinion! I started Angel without realizing what it was and it was good but kind of confusing without any back story!

Elenatintil said...

Rj - Gluten free coffeecake? I CAN MAKE THAT! XD But yes, looking forwards to it!

Katy Sue - I really recommend it. It can be a really dark show at points (although totally balanced out by the humor), but if you are cool with that, then it is very much a must see.

Wolfram said...

Darn good blog, keep on, please !

Karina~ said...

Can I just say. That I am so happy you have finally watched it and love it as much as I do. I am always in the middle of a season. To good to ever truly "stop" watching it. I wanna join in the eating of the coffeecake and talking too!! :) count me in! :)